Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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Pre-U.S. Entry Into WWII

The first action between the U.S. and German navies occured on April 10, 1941, when USS Niblack (DD-424) neared the Icelandic coast to pick-up three boatloads of survivors from the Dutch freighter Saleier, which was sunk the previous day.   When a submarine was detected preparing to attack, the division commander, Commander D.L. Ryan, ordered a depth charge attack, driving off the U-boat.    

USS Greer (DD-145) was attacked on September 4, 1941, by German U-boat, U-652, while she was tracking the submarine southeast of Iceland.  Though the destroyer was not damaged in the attack, Greer's depth charges damaged U-652.  The attack led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue his "shoot-on-sight" order, directing the U.S. Navy to attack any ship threatening U.S. shipping or foreign shipping under escort.  U-652 would later be scuttled by U-81 after being badly damaged by depth charges from a British "Swordfish" aircraft in the Mediterrean Sea on June 2, 1942.  

The U.S. Navy oiler, USS Salinas (AO-19) was torpedoed off Newfoundland on September 30, 1941, by German U-boat, U-106.  Without loss of life to Salinas' crew, the vessel returned to New York for repairs.  In August 1943, U-106 was sunk off Spain by British and Australian Sutherland aircraft.  

German U-boat, U-568, torpedoed and damaged USS Kearny  (DD-432) on October 17, 1941, near Iceland, resulting in 11 killed and 22 injured.  In May 1942, U-568  was sunk by depth charges dropped by Royal Navy destroyer HMS Hero and destroyer escorts HMS Eridge and HMS Hurworth

On October 31, 1941, German U-boat, U-552, sank USS Reuben James (DD-245), which was escorting Convoy HX 156, with a loss of 115 lives.  Reuben James was the first U.S. Navy ship lost to enemy action during World War II.  During her service, U-552 sank 30 Allied vessels.  She was scuttled by the Germans on May 5, 1945.   

While on Neutrality Patrol near the Equator, USS Omaha (CL-4) and USS Somer (DD-381) intercepted the German blockade runner Odenwald on November 4, 1941, disguised as U.S. freighter and boarded her after the German crew abandoned the ship.  They brought the ship to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where the boarding party was awarded salvage shares.  Of note, this award was the last prize money awarded by the U.S. Navy. 

Image:  NH-86699-KN:    "Sinking of the Reuben James," October 31, 1941.  Artwork Griffiths Bailey Cole.  Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection.  NHHC Photograph Collection.